Allegations of BP's Turtle Burning Add Fuel to the Fire

6 years ago

Recent reports that BP is burning oil-soaked sea turtles alive in its ham-handed efforts to control the Gulf spill have added fuel to the fire of outrage against the petroleum giant. And now, two animal conservation groups say they will sue BP and the U.S. Coast Guard to stop the deadly "controlled burns" aimed at removing surface oil.

In an effort to collect the oil, shrimp boats "corral" the black goo by dragging fire-resistant booms across the water to form enclosed "burn boxes," which are then set on fire. Reports are surfacing that indicate marine mammals are trapped in these boxes and carelessly burned alive. Furthermore, there are indications that BP is denying access to animal rescuers in what I would guess are (ironically) litigation concerns.

Well, so much for that. The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network have released a 60-day notice letter, the first step to filing a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act. Their official statements:

“The spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now. Newly hatched sea turtles are swimming out to sea and finding themselves in a mucky, oily mess. News that BP has blocked efforts to rescue trapped sea turtles before they’re burned alive in controlled burns is unacceptable.”
--Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center

"BP is burning turtles alive and it is cruel, heartless and a crime we can't and won't allow to continue. Sea turtles were critically endangered before BP created America's worst environmental catastrophe, and every effort possible must be taken to rescue endangered turtles from this oil spill. BP needs to reverse course and help double our efforts to rescue sea turtles, not prevent their recovery."
--Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN)

Allegedly among the burn casualties, the Kemp's ridley turtle, a very rare creature that is also critically endangered. Harming or killing even just one animal on the endangered species list can result in a fine of up to $50,000 and possibly prison time. At the rate that BP is racking up fines, lawsuits and overall bad karma, this legal case would presumably have to take a number.

Four other endangered sea turtle species are found in the Gulf of Mexico: greens, loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks, and presumably they face the fires as well. All depend on the Gulf of Mexico for nesting, reproduction, feeding and migration. To complicate clean-up efforts, oil tends to collect in sargassum, a type of seaweed, where immature turtles and many other organisms live. So, burning the whole batch is a tragic baby-with-bathwater scenario.

"Unified Command is expanding turtle monitoring capability for both in-site burning and skimming. In addition a biologist will be on board one of the skimmers to also evaluate any risks to turtles. The idea of animals being burned alive is appalling to us.''
--Robert Wine, a BP press officer

Although BP claims to have a marine biologist on board, the two groups are asking BP and the Coast Guard to place "qualified observers" in the Gulf of Mexico who can survey and rescue endangered turtles and other wildlife.

“They ran us out of there and then they shut us down, they would not let us get back in there. Once the turtles get in there they can’t get out. In the meantime, how many turtles got caught up and just burned?"
--Mike Ellis, a boat captain involved in sea turtle rescue, re: BP (See full interview by Catherine Craig at Green Energy News.)

In reaction to the disturbing news, nearly 130,000 people signed a CREDO Action petition, calling on BP to stop blocking efforts to rescue sea turtles. The petition was delivered to BP and the Coast Guard offices in Louisiana on June 28, although they are still taking signatures here.

The latest casualty count: 429 dead sea turtles have been collected in the spill region, and surely many more have not yet been found. Just when you think you can't fit any more lumps in your throat ... I just spent the last four days in the New Mexico desert, where I learned that the turtle is a sacred symbol among many Native American tribes -- they feel that the earth was formed on the shell of a turtle. And because they carry their houses -- or shells -- with them always, they represent home, leading me to propose we add another dirty adjective to BP: Homewreckers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. hatches a plan to save the next turtle generation ....

According to The Huffington Post, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is coordinating a massive operation to rescue -- by hand -- about 70,000 turtle eggs out of 800 nests from the Florida to Alabama. Many of the sandy nests will be loggerhead turtles, which are also a threatened species. The ambitious plan is the first of its kind and set to begin in approximately 10 days.

"We have a much higher degree of certainty that if we do nothing and we allow these turtles to emerge and go into the Gulf and into the oil ... that we could in fact lose most of them, if not all of them. There's a chance of losing a whole generation."
--Chuck Underwood, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Hats off to the dozens of workers who will be executing this delicate operation; it's not something that can be done with bulldozers. Each nest must be treated with caution and the eggs, once retrieved, cannot be rolled around or repositioned in any way, lest there be trauma to the embryo inside. Once placed in simulated nests of Styrofoam and sand, the embryos will live at the Kennedy Space Center until they emerge.

Then, one by one, they will be released on Florida's east coast, where they will (hopefully) swim away with nary a drop of crude in their future.

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz

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